Simpson Thatcher & Bartlett LLP
Published April 2011
2011 Vault Ranking: 6
Simpson Thacher is a Wall Street institution, well experienced in representing financial giants. Throughout the firm’s 125 year history, the firm has been at the forefront of financial and industrial trends. Originally founded in 1884 by three Columbia law school graduates, Simpson Thacher assisted in the railroad reorganizations, the creation of mining and natural resource companies, and the expansion of the public utility system. By 1920, the firm was representing clients in Europe, Asia, and South America.
Today, the firm is one of the world’s premiere mergers and acquisitions practices, with strength in private equity leveraged buyouts, featuring other elite teams in banking, capital markets, and securities law. It is a full service firm, somewhat more versatile than some of the other M&A specialists, with formidable litigation and intellectual property groups as well.
Simpson Thacher’s recent clients include JPMorgan, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, UBS, and other major banks. Private equity clients include the likes of The Blackstone Group, Silverlake, and more. The firm has represented the buyer in the five largest completed buyouts in history, and has even represented the U.S. Treasury Department. The firm had a major presence during the financial crisis, working on a number of groundbreaking deals, including TARP.
Simpson Thacher alumni have included U.S. Senators, Solicitors General, a Speaker of the House, a Secretary of State, Secretary of the Army, and numerous ambassadors, federal, and state judges. The firm features over 800 attorneys in nine domestic and international offices, providing elite transactional capability throughout all of the world’s principal financial centers.
Simpson Thacher is internationally recognized for its role as providing some of the best representation on behalf of all parties on all sides of complex mergers and acquisitions, and a worldwide leader in private equity transactions. It offers comprehensive experience in all aspects of buyouts, stock and asset purchases, restructuring, spin-offs, and joint ventures. The firm also advises domestic and international issuers and underwriters in all types of capital market transactions, IPOs, and complex instruments.
The firm has a relatively robust litigation practice, encompassing securities, insurance and reinsurance, antitrust, intellectual property, international arbitration, and other major dispute resolution engagements for national and international clients. The litigation department primarily supports the main financial clients of the firm, with recent major victories on behalf of Blackstone, Fannie Mae, and Lehman. The firm also has a top ranked antitrust practice, representing clients in actions usually resulting from the mergers and acquisitions for which the firm is famed.
Nationally, Simpson Thacher holds Band 1 or 2 rankings from Chambers and Partners in Antitrust, Banking, Bankruptcy, Capital Markets, Corporate/M&A, Employee Benefits, Energy: Electricty, Financial Services regulation (Banking, Financial Institutions), Insurance, Private Equity, Securities Litigation, and Corporate Tax. Out of its New York headquarters, the firm also has Band 1 or 2 rankings locally in commercial litigation and corporate real estate.
The firm has numerous top Vault rankings by practice area. It is ranked #1 in Private Equity, and is in the top 10 for General Corporate Practice, M&A, New York practice, Securities, Securities Litigation, and Tax.
Simpson Thacher has eight to twelve week summer associate programs in its Los Angeles, New York, Palo Alto, and Washington, D.C. offices. Summer associates with appropriate language skills can sometimes split summers between a domestic and foreign office. Summer associates can choose assignments from a single department or from multiple departments, and are expected to complete between eleven to fifteen projects. Summer associates typically bill six hours a day on assignments. They are expected to be in the office during regular working hours, which is usually until 7:00 PM on weekdays.
The firm offers public interest fellowships for summer associates to spend an additional four to six weeks of the summer doing public interest work while receiving a firm salary. They also offer a four-week summer fellowship program in JPMorgan Chase’s legal office, a long time client of the firm. Sumer associates are permitted ten “traditional” lunches with a budget of $65 per person, and twenty “casual” lunches with a budget of $15 per person. The firm also features fairly typical weekly social events, including cultural outings, sporting events, concerts, and cocktail parties.
All incoming 2009 associates started on time in the Fall of 2009.
Compensation and Benefits
In 2007, before the financial crisis swept the world, Simpson Thacher was the first firm to lead the pack in raising first year salaries to $160,000 in their New York office, which other top firms quickly matched. The firm has been consistently at the top of the salary and bonus market, though it has become a follower in recent years. The firm did not freeze salaries during the downturn, and it has matched Cravath’s bonuses in 2009 and 2010. In 2011, it matched Sullivan & Cromwell’s spring bonuses.
The firm has a lock step salary scale with no official billable hours requirement, though the average is between 1,800 and 2,000 hours per year. Consequences of not meeting the informal requirement may include discussion during annual reviews, no bonus, or in rare cases, leaving an attorney not in good standing.
The firm features standard benefits, including subsidized cafeteria, subsidized gym membership, monthly happy hours and dinners, free coffee, and discounts with clients. New associates receive a $15,000 salary advance and relocation costs. Associates with judicial clerkships still advance in class year, and receive bonuses. Associates receive four weeks of vacation per year, and generally make use of it.
The firm allows for part time and flexible schedules, but in 2009 only 18 of 800 attorneys participated in the flex-time program. While Simpson Thacher did not lay off any associates, they did establish a “public interest fellowship” where associates could voluntarily take a year off from the firm and receive only $60,000, and then return to the firm afterward.
There is a single partnership track at the firm, averaging eight to ten years. Simpson has a strong history of promoting partners from within the firm, but the numbers have been dropping steadily from thirteen new partners in 2006 to only five in 2008. The vast majority of associates at the firm believe that partnership prospects are terrible, with “virtually no chance” even if attorneys are “ready to give up their lives.”
Simpson Thacher has a relatively social culture, for a large firm. As you would expect, partners are demanding and expect good work, but the firm is as a whole friendly and polite, though there is no pressure to socialize with fellow attorneys. However it should be noted that the firm has a very strong face time policy. A few years ago, the firm officially announced corporate associates were to be in the office. Though the mandatory policy was eventually dropped, associates still feel pressure to be present.
Simpson Thacher is one of the most prestigious corporate shops on Wall Street. If a soon to be associate has a strong interest in the finance industry or M&A field, Simpson Thacher is an excellent alternative to some of the most oppressively soul-crushing firms in the Vault 100.
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